‘Reading with Patrick: A Teacher, a Student, and a Life-Changing Friendship’

Reading with Patrick: A Teacher, a Student, and a Life-Changing Friendship
by Michelle Kuo

Reviewed by Dennis Ray

Reading with Patrick is a memoir by Michelle Kuo. It takes place in 2007 when Kuo, a recent graduate of Harvard University, arrives in the rural town of Helena, Arkansas, as a Teach for America volunteer. She has just been offered the hardest and most trying job she ever could have imagined. Here she encounters life in one of the poorest counties in America. Kuo, the child of Taiwanese immigrants, goes on a journey that changes her life and challenges her already liberal viewpoints.

Kuo leaves the Delta after a few years to pursue a law degree. On the eve of her law-school graduation, she learns one of her former students, Patrick, has been jailed for murder.
She returns to Helena to visit Patrick and offer him some moral support. However, she quickly understands there can be no future for Patrick even if he gets out of jail. With a ninth-grade education, bearly able to read and write, his personal life is stunted, and now with a felony and perhaps life in prison things are bleak for him.

Kuo, every day for the next seven months, she teaches and reads with him, classic novels, poems, and works of history.

This book happens to be one of the most heartfelt books I have read in the past couple years on social justice and race in America. Kuo’s honesty and determination as a teacher keep the narrative moving forward at a steady pace. She also doesn’t trivialize her subject or over sensibilize as could easily have been done in lesser work.

The audiobook is read by the author which to me is most always a plus, and this book is no exception. Kuo reads as if talking to a friend over coffee. It is also available as a hardcover. However, I cannot recommend enough how good it was to listen to Kuo talking in her voice, using her words to tell her story.

Jul 11, 2017 | 510 Minutes